Chairman's Summary, Third Meeting of the High Commissioner's Forum, Geneva, 1 October 2004
1. I am grateful for the many thought-provoking statements that we have heard today. You have made clear that Convention Plus is a rich process and that we are making our way forward with the initiative. Many of you have welcomed the transparent way in which the process is proceeding, with the participation of many countries, organizations and NGOs. You have also put on record your appreciation to the States facilitating the process: Canada, Denmark, Japan, South Africa and Switzerland.
2. Some have asked about the timeframe for Convention Plus. As a timeframe we have until the end of next year. By that time, we must be able to say that Convention Plus as a separate organizational center in UNHCR has done its good work, just as the Agenda for Protection resulted from the Global Consultations. Then the Convention Plus concept will have taken enough root to be beneficial for years to come.
3. I would like to link up with two points made by the Director of DIP. You might say that UNHCR is, in its entirety, about effective protection. This even includes solutions, because the ultimate aim of protection is durable solutions. We know from experience that protection has many dimensions and challenges. Secondly, when listening to the NGO representative speaking on irregular secondary movements (ISM), it was said that movements are only secondary when there is a primary stage: that is when protection was indeed found. Indeed, if all countries had the will and capacity to deliver protection, then there would not be much reason for Convention Plus. Without burden sharing and working together on solutions, protection deteriorates.
4. The outcome of Convention Plus is therefore not only about the end result of the consultation process on the initiative's three strands. For me, a very important benefit of Convention Plus, already since its inception, is to reinforce a constructive dialogue among States and to energize UNHCR and our partners in trying to find durable solutions for refugees and working better to realize burden-sharing. When I compare the situation today with last year, I can say we are doing better in finding durable solutions. Convention Plus is already delivering today. It energizes us and invites us to seize opportunities to work better together.
Strategic use of resettlement
5. A number of themes emerged from the discussion on the new Multilateral Framework of Understandings on Resettlement elaborated within the framework of the Convention Plus Core Group on the Strategic Use of Resettlement (see FORUM/2004/6).
6. Many delegations welcomed the new framework and remarked that it augured well for the Convention Plus initiative. Many also agreed that the Multilateral Framework reflects the concerns and suggestions of traditional resettlement countries, as well as the concerns of countries hosting large numbers of refugees. A number of you observed that its implementation would potentially make available resettlement as a durable solution to more refugees. In this regard, I am grateful to delegations that announced increases in their resettlement quotas, since this adds a much-needed quantitative dimension to our ambition to expand resettlement as a manifestation of burden-sharing. A number of delegations welcomed recognition in the framework of the possibility of processing groups for resettlement, but cautioned that this should not be at the expense of urgent individual resettlement, particularly as a tool of protection.
7. In response to a request for clarification of paragraph 17 of the Multilateral Framework, let me recall that the request for greater flexibility in resettlement criteria is a long-standing one from UNHCR. It was discussed during the Global Consultations on International Protection and a call for flexibility was made in the Agenda for Protection. UNHCR's concern in relation to criteria has been a tendency on the part of some resettlement countries to adhere strictly to the 1951 Convention refugee definition and apply it restrictively, excluding from the ambit of resettlement quite a number of people of concern to the Office, including in situations in which resettlement should be part of a "package" of durable solutions.
8. One delegation asked what is meant by "strategic use of resettlement". The concept was examined actively by the Working Group on Resettlement (WGR), which defined it as the planned use of resettlement in a manner that maximizes the benefits, directly or indirectly, other than those received by the refugee being resettled. Those benefits may accrue to other refugees, the hosting State, other States or the international protection regime in general. UNHCR is therefore exploring and expanding new ways to resettle refugees. This has involved use of the "group methodology" in Africa and the Middle East, with some success, which holds promise for the future. Resettlement may also be used to open up asylum space in host countries, provide a regular avenue to find protection, and thereby contribute to the reduction of irregular secondary movements, since protection can be attained without resort to smugglers and traffickers.
9. A number of you stressed, that the Multilateral Framework's value could only be assessed from its testing and implementation in specific refugee situations. Quite a number of you emphasized the linkage of the Multilateral Framework and the work of this Core Group with the other strands Convention Plus and wished to see progress accelerated. Working on strengthening these linkages does not mean, however, that we cannot move forward on resettlement or postpone our reflecting upon possible comprehensive plans of action (CPAs). Its application is already being considered within the framework of the Steering Committee set up for work on the (CPA) for Somali refugees.
10. Regarding its use in specific operations, the Multilateral Framework is ideally applied as part of a comprehensive approach, but can also stand alone if need be. The text specifically recognizes this.
11. Especially in relation to the development strand of Convention Plus, but also regarding ISM, many of you have said that we should strive to ensure that there is maximum partnership. Some stressed the need for a practical approach on this strand, as well as on ISM. A number has also suggested that the Multilateral Framework could be used as a model for drafting similar understandings relating to the other two strands. One delegation specifically asked whether we need a generic agreement when we talk about development, and suggested that we develop a catalogue of good practices instead. Convention Plus is about firmer commitments. If we can be sure that firm commitments already exist in this area, then I would agree that we don't need a generic agreement. However, the question is probably more complex, and a generic agreement would therefore be a good way of reaffirming these commitments and practicing them.
12. Work on this strand of the initiative has been driven by the strong desire of a number of States to use a "bottom-up" approach, focusing, in the first instance, on specific refugee/returnee groups and refugee/returnee-hosting areas and only later on generic understandings to be derived from this experience. But during the work on this strand, it has become apparent that cooperation needs to be developed also in fora and regarding initiatives where more generic approaches, tools and criteria are being developed. When one delegation remarked that UNDP is now focusing on refugees, I say it was because of UNHCR's encouragement to do so. Other examples include the UN's Country Common Assessment (CCA)/United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), which provide opportunities for incorporating refugees and displaced populations, the World Bank Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, and the OECD. Regarding the latter, displaced populations are, in theory, already part of the OECD's DAC Guidelines but, in practice, the uprooted are often overlooked.
13. I agree that the concept of "human security" is important in the context of post-conflict reconstruction. We will work actively to explore how to use this concept in our activities and how to better relate, for example, to Japan's Human Security Fund.
Irregular Secondary Movements (ISM)
14. The issue of irregular secondary movements is clearly one that affects us all in one way or another. A number of you observed that the work of the Core Group on Irregular Secondary Movements would benefit from an authoritative statement from UNHCR's Department of International Protection (DIP) on what is meant by "effective protection". The Director of the DIP informed you that she intended to address this issue during the Plenary Session of the Executive Committee next week. As you know, UNHCR has been reflecting upon the notion of effective protection for some time. The December 2002 Lisbon expert roundtable on this topic, held within the framework of the Global Consultations, produced conclusions which provide an interesting and relatively authoritative statement about effective protection, while not purporting to be binding.. Since that time, my Office has been working with NGOs and academics to give content to these understandings.
15. UNHCR has not done this exclusively in the context of ISM, since we see danger in allowing debate about when a State can return someone to become the vehicle for determining the content of effective protection. It is likely that, for some States, the lower the standard for effective protection the easier it is to return irregular secondary movers, setting the standard at a lower common denominator. We have therefore preferred to keep it as an issue for determination on its merits.
16. Some delegations also asked to learn more about the EU-funded project to reinforce protection capacity in selected African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Kenya and Tanzania). The Director of DIP reminded us that there are, in fact, several UNHCR projects, being funded by and implemented in cooperation with the EU, which look at how UNHCR and partners can strengthen capacity to protect refugees where protection is first sought. This flows directly from the Agenda for Protection, which asks UNHCR to look at gaps in protection and to develop strategies to correct them. As part of this effort, UNHCR has produced a framework for identifying gaps in protection capacity, which draws upon the international legal framework as well as the checklist of protection indicators for use by protection officers in the field. The main aim of all these efforts is to get a picture of the protection situation of refugees, the principal asylum-related institutions and legislative framework, the constraints of host societies in meeting expectations, and to ensure that protection strategies States put in place fully take into account the needs and challenges confronting both refugees and the host communities.
17. Convention Plus is based on the observation that there is a link between the enormous gaps and shortages in protection and the fact that there is insufficient burden-sharing and insufficient emphasis on solutions. The speaker for the African Group said that for burden-sharing not to become burden-shifting, it must be seen within a human rights framework. He welcomed the fact that this discussion of burden-sharing has found its way into one of the Core Groups. NGOs emphasized the link between protection and development. We have to continue trying to diminish the gaps in protection in all countries. Sometimes you have reasonable levels of protection but then the levels go down, even in developed countries. For me, Convention Plus is about repairing and improving, but also maintaining, a high quality of protection for refugees. For this, firmer international cooperation is needed.
Comprehensive Approaches to Durable Solutions
18. Regarding comprehensive approaches to durable solutions, I wish to thank you for your thoughtful comments. We have identified situations where Convention Plus comprehensive agreements can be implemented on the ground. This effort will be accelerated in the months to come.
19. Many of you agreed with the thrust of my presentation under this agenda item, that the approach to protracted refugee situations should be comprehensive, whenever possible. I take note of the view of one delegation that the ultimate goal of any CPA should remain resolving an entire refugee problem in all its dimensions. But not being able to present a solution for an entire refugee problem should not prevent us from getting started on solving parts of the problem. This was the approach set out in the note on Making comprehensive approaches to resolving refugee problems more systematic , which many of you found to be valuable and saw as a useful way to keep the issue of protracted refugee situations under review on an ongoing basis. In this context, there was support for presenting to the Standing Committee an annual inventory of protracted refugee situations.
20. A number of you emphasized that the feasibility of a CPA should be determined on case-by-case basis, taking into account the specificities of each situation. I would like to sound a word of caution based on my experience as High Commissioner. As soon as we talk about implementing different solutions together, we have strange experiences. We promote one durable solution, but then stakeholders ask, "What about other durable solutions?" When we decide to go for a CPA, then other States say, "Yes to other durable solutions, but no to local integration." My own lesson is that we shouldn't assume that CPAs are the best way to go forward in each and every case, but a comprehensive analysis of opportunities for durable solutions is nevertheless needed. Many of you have welcomed the formulation of a CPA for Somalis. Your support is indispensable to ensure that the Somali refugee problem can be resolved comprehensively.
21. I share the satisfaction of many about the successful voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees. But I am concerned about the suggestion that, because of unemployment in developing countries hosting large numbers of refugees, it is not conceivable to have Afghans as guest workers. Speaking as an economist, I do not agree that the national labour force can satisfy the niche being occupied by many Afghans. Not all Afghans arrived as a result of violence in their country. If people are productive, their departure will affect the economy. If you force people out of the work force, nationals cannot readily step in. Industry will undoubtedly suffer and complain.
22. We have repeatedly heard a call for closer cooperation. This close cooperation of States and partners is needed in various situations, in particular in new emergencies and protracted refugee situations. Practice has taught us, though, that a multi-partner approach is not always easy to achieve. What is essential in these situations is to jointly mobilize the international community. This is what Convention Plus is all about. We leave energized by you. You have recognized that some results have already been produced. This work is important for UNHCR and for the refugees. I count on you to continue your efforts regarding the different agreements which we are seeking to devise and implement together.